A Bit of a Scandal by Mary Rose Callaghan
|A Bit of a Scandal by Mary Rose Callaghan|
|Genre: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A deceptively simple story about a relationship between a young woman and a Catholic priest will have you laughing and thinking. Definitely recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 224||Date: March 2009|
After reading An Irish Country Doctor with its stories of a village just outside Belfast in the nineteen sixties it seemed quite natural to move to Dublin in the seventies. It's not just the decade that's different, or the move to south of the border. Religion rears its head and whilst the Troubles are insidiously taking hold in the North, the South is somehow isolated from them in the early seventies. Against this background Mary Rose Callaghan delivers a glorious nod to the story of Heloise and Abelard and whilst nine centuries may have passed, some attitudes are unchanged.
Louise first met Peter in an Italian café at the back gate of Trinity College. She should have known better – her mother was an alcoholic – but she was much the worse for drink. It was Peter, the Canadian priest, who escorted her home rather than the friend who had plied her with white wine and it's only a matter of days before they become lovers. Initially it's Peter who is desperate for sex, who initiates the love making, but once satisfied becomes guilt-ridden and swears that it will never happen again. He can't keep away though and gradually Louise finds herself falling in love – or in love with the hopelessness of their situation. What began as the thrill of the forbidden becomes impossible as Louise finds herself at the mercy of a man who will never marry her, no matter what and who thinks only of himself.
It's a rare talent that can capture not just a place at a particular moment in time but the attitudes of the decade and Mary Rose Callaghan captures both perfectly. There's a subtle and gentle examination of priestly celibacy – and by extension the accommodations and hypocrisies which are a by-product. It might be set in the seventies but it's no less relevant today. It would be easy too to turn the relationship into a grand drama but Callaghan has a sharp eye for the farcical and the ridiculous – laughter is never far away.
What impressed me most about the book was that Callaghan doesn't judge her characters. It's as though, having given birth to them, she can forgive their failings. She might wish that Peter was true to his vows, that Louise was more grounded, but she accepts them as they are and lets them be. It's easy to forget that the attitude at the time would have been very different.
You could read this book as a simple story but that's not the way it will stay in your mind. It's several days since I finished reading the book but I find my mind drifting back to it, weighing up the possibilities, wondering what might have happened if it had worked out differently.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
If this book appeals to you then we think that you might also enjoy The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry. Although a completely different book we think you would also like Towards Another Summer by Janet Frame.
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